- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 19, 2002

For UNICEF, well-being of children comes first

Contrary to the views of unnamed sources quoted in your March 14 story "Plan in works to save 11 million children," UNICEF continues to put child survival, health and well-being at the center of its work. The evidence is clear and abundant: UNICEF remains the world's largest supplier of immunization supplies; procures 75 percent of the childhood vaccines used in developing nations; and is a leader in the fight to eradicate polio, roll back malaria and prevent the spread of HIV among young people. Right now in Afghanistan, UNICEF is supplying millions of doses of measles vaccine to a nationwide campaign that, despite formidable hurdles, will reach 9 million children. At the height of the bombing last fall, UNICEF delivered polio vaccine and lifesaving vitamin A.

In fact, in 2001, a full 40 percent of UNICEF's program spending went to improving child health and survival, virtually the same as in 1990. That was the year UNICEF helped organize the groundbreaking World Summit for Children, and this May, world leaders will gather in New York to assess progress toward the goals set at that summit. They will find that child mortality rates have dropped by 20 percent globally and that 3 million fewer children lose their lives to preventable causes. UNICEF is proud of our contribution to that progress but I am the first to declare that too little progress was made. All of us should remain far from satisfied.

Last week in Stockholm, UNICEF and the World Health Organization joined other partners from around the world to develop a plan for making basics such as immunization universal. I was very pleased with the pragmatic strategies I heard and that UNICEF helped develop. This week in Mexico, I will try to persuade world leaders that investment in children pays the greatest dividends. After that I will visit Afghanistan, where UNICEF's commitment to basic health and immunization along with getting children into school has been second to none.

There may have been a time when UNICEF was one of a small number of voices for children. I am proud to say this is no longer the case. That others have joined the effort and have brought great value and strengths along with them is a great achievement for children. It's just possible that UNICEF helped make that happen, and through the Global Movement for Children, we are inviting even more players to get involved.

Does UNICEF support the idea that children have rights? Absolutely. That commitment has strengthened our efforts on behalf of children by broadening the basis on which we and others can fight for investment in basic services for all. To suggest that the right of every child to basic health care, a decent education, clean water and protection from abuse runs counter to child survival is to fail to understand the very forces that impact on child survival. UNICEF sees no contradiction, and our spending on priorities such as immunization, AIDS and basic health demonstrate that every day.


Executive director


New York

Land mines the lingering problem

As a former Special Forces officer who has been in minefields and who works to eradicate the impact of land mines on civilians around the world, I take issue with several of the points Ernest W. Lefever made in his March 15 Commentary column, "Land mine myopia."

In his discussion of the inherent destructiveness of land mines, Mr. Lefever suggests that land mines are weapons like bombs (which are dropped by humans) and tanks (the main guns of which are fired by humans). They are not. The weapons he compares with mines require a "man in the loop" to drop, fire or otherwise operate the system to achieve the desired effect. Not so land mines. Once in place, they are dangerous to anyone who steps on them for years or decades after a conflict has ended. Most often, the victims of land mines are civilians.

Mr. Lefever suggests that the impact of land mines, like that of tanks and bombs, is dependent upon how they are employed. Again, the impact of tanks and bombs is at the time of use. Even if land mines were employed with some regard to military doctrine, these considerations are irrelevant many years later to the civilians men, women and children who have replaced the warring armies around the minefields and who unwittingly wander through them. There is no man in the loop to prevent these civilians from being victimized.

Mr. Lefever states that "[i]n its failed conquest of Afghanistan, the Soviet Union used mines to kill and maim Afghan children and farmers." Unfortunately, more than a decade after that war ended and more than a decade after the state that initiated that war ceased to exist, the weapons Soviet soldiers employed continue to kill and maim Afghan children and also American soldiers trying to do what is right and just in the war on terror. Without a man in the loop without intent and direction tanks do not continue decades later to do the job for which they were intended. Tanks require an intelligent actor to aim and operate. Land mines do not. They are victim-initiated and heedless of the victim's origin or allegiance. They act regardless of whether the victim is an al Qaeda operative on the run, a U.S. soldier on his tail or an Afghan farmer trying to get out of their way.

Mr. Lefever touts the "precise location of all U.S. mines in South Korea." Yes, the United States and a few allies may adhere to the military discipline required to map minefields and remove the mines when the war has ended. However, most militaries do not have the discipline of these few NATO members. I have walked around minefields laid by "modern" militaries around the world, and even if the conflicts ended years earlier, the mines are still dangerous. The militaries that put in these minefields apparently forgot to remove them once the conflict was over. The children and farmers living around these minefields, because they do not have access to the rare maps that once might have been available, continue to step on mines and die. In Afghanistan, various factions that continued fighting after the Soviet Union withdrew disassembled some of these "orderly" minefields and used the mines again in ways that were not mapped, marked or controlled. Land mines are weapons that keep on giving.

A final point Mr. Lefever should ponder in his analysis of the "zealous advocates of banning land mines" who are "shout[ing]" about the need for the United States to sign the treaty: Many of us performing the difficult tasks of locating, marking, mapping and removing land mines are former military personnel. Certainly, the vast majority of international deminers who actually do the demining or train local nationals to do it are from the forces of a NATO member. We aren't weak-kneed, hand-wringing types, and based on our broad experience doing hard jobs in harder places, we tend to have a realistic worldview.

My personal experience in several countries that have been engaged in conflict as recently as months before my arrival has shown me that these countries can and do abide by the treaties they have ratified. I have been present for the destruction of national stockpiles. Keep in mind that these countries don't have the "smart" weapons and high technology that the United States does. They certainly would have a stronger argument than the United States for keeping land mines in their meager arsenals. The difference is that citizens and leaders of these countries have actually experienced the damage that land mines inflict upon innocents. In their eyes, the damage outweighed politically and morally the tactical and strategic value of retaining these weapons. The United States might want to remember this as we fight a just war against terror. We might want to remember that land mines directly terrorize more people each year 26,000, as Mr. Lefever noted than all other forms of terror combined.


Operations officer

Mine Action Program

Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation


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